By David Fear
Special to MSN Movies
"A lion in your lap! A lover in your arms!"
So proclaimed Arch Oboler's "Bwana Devil," a torrid 1952 tale of jungle love that would be forgotten in the annals of film history were it not for one crucial fact: It's considered by many to be the first "modern" 3-D movie. Though filmmakers had been experimenting with various stereoscopic projection processes since the 1920s, it wasn't until the early '50s that the 3-D experience we know and love (the cheesy cardboard glasses, the ridiculous "comin' at ya!" scenes featuring grasping sea monsters and gratuitous flying spears) was born. With studios desperately looking to get viewers away from their Xboxes and back into cineplexes, it's no surprise that this vintage gimmick is enjoying a major resurgence. Last year saw 3-D films like "Journey to the Center of the Earth" clean up at the box office, and Lionsgate's 3-D remake of the cult slasher flick "My Bloody Valentine" on Jan. 16 is just one of eight (!) three-dimensional movies set to be released in 2009.
But while 3-D has been one of the most durable gimmicks ever used to put rumps in seats, it's surely not the goofiest. We look back at a few legendary moments in the history of ballyhoo marketing and screen gimmickry courtesy of the charlatans, shysters, carnie barkers and creative types who've trafficked in the business of show.
And just to sweeten the deal, we're not only including a wish list of outrageous stunts and techno-cine-tomfoolery we'd love to see in the near future. We're also presenting this entire article in "WORD-O-RAMA""!, a brand new process patented by MSN Movies in which high-voltage nouns and vivacious verbs will implant concepts of awe and admiration directly into your cerebral cortex. Trust us: You'll read sentences as you've never read them before!!!
You Won't Believe Your ... Nose?
The inspiration: "Polyester" and Odorama
The gimmick: Cinema works its magic by engaging viewers through sight and sound. But for cult filmmaker and provocateur John Waters, two senses just weren't enough. No, the Pope of Trash decided that in order for audience members to truly experience the movies, they needed to smell what was happening on-screen. For "Polyester," his 1981 celebration of camp, the Bard of Baltimore had Odorama cards handed out to patrons when they entered the theater. Then, during the film, a number would flash on the screen; once you scratched the corresponding circle on the card, you would experience the exact same olfactory sensations as the movie's seedy characters. (William Castle, who we'll get to in a bit, tried something similar in 1960 with "Scent of Mystery," made in Smell-O-Rama.) The choices included flowers, pizza and a skunk; as for what the card's No. 2 held in store, let's just say that you kept your fingers crossed that the digit never showed up.
What we'd like to see: Since sight, sound, smell and touch (see Sensurround entry) have all been accounted for, the next logical step is Tasteorama. A four-star chef will cook an audience several delicious meals during the film, so when, say, Brad Pitt or Lorenzo Lamas eats a tuna casserole on-screen, viewers can munch along with the stars. Yum!
The inspiration: "Snuff"
The gimmick: The urban myth surrounding the existence of "snuff" films (movies that show real people being murdered) has been circulating for decades, but there's never been any conclusive proof that celluloid atrocities have ever been produced. Enter Allan Shackleton, an exploitation-movie producer who found the perfect opportunity to fleece the public. After one of his grade-Z horror flicks, "Slaughter," failed to draw any business, Shackleton started circulating press releases that claimed this cinematic turkey contained a bona fide homicide. He then sent out faux articles detailing the efforts of a crusader named Vincent Sheehan and an organization named Citizens for Decency, who called the film immoral and depraved. (There was no Sheehan, naturally; oddly enough, a real group known as Citizens for Decency actually did rally against the sight-unseen trash once these articles starting showing up in legit newspapers.) After shooting a new (and obviously fake) ending featuring an actress being disemboweled and renaming the end result "Snuff," Shackleton's 1976 magnum opus packed theaters for weeks straight. This gimmick has never been given an official name, but we're coining it: "Hoax-O-Vision."What we'd like to see: A movie that comes with an "Auteur-dacity Meter" that determines degrees of directorial repugnancy. Once the meter goes irreversibly into the red, audiences will determine whether the filmmaker gets to keep his head. Literally. Watch out, Uwe Boll and Brett Ratner.